16 players set to shine in the second NBA season



Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Cade Cunningham were among the rookies to deliver in 2021-22.

The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores, as a former college coach once said. And one of the best things about NBA rookies is that the best of them come back as second-year players. With a lot of experience, some familiarity with the league and a better idea of ​​where they fit in and how they can help their teams.

This development, from the first season to the second, could have a significant impact on the balance of power in the NBA in 2022-23, given the depth of the 2021 promotion last season. Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes beat Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons for Kia Rookie of the Year, but the race to the top was close and all three had compelling cases.

But it was not a very heavy harvest. In fact, as it became apparent just how remarkable the newcomer’s talent level and contributions were, the weekly rookie ladder here on NBA.com made an unprecedented adjustment: we’ve added two rungs, from 10 to 12, to keep an eye on the deserving. new guys. Even with this change, three or four players were snubbed each week.

With that in mind, here are 16 NBA sophomores poised to shine this season (listed alphabetically):


Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

• Rookie Season Stats

Barnes wasn’t just the ROY — he was a surprise, nabbed at No. 4 by the Raptors when most fake drafts had Jalen Suggs slotted in there. The Florida State product impressed not only with its output — 15.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.5 apg — but with its versatility. He’s part of coach Nick Nurse’s squad of switchable 6-foot-9 defenders who can hold any of three or four positions. His ball skills also allow him to fulfill an attacking role. It’s no wonder that any chatter about a Kevin Durant-Toronto trade has invariably mentioned Barnes as a key player.


Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

• Rookie Season Stats

Take a look at the numbers Cunningham put up last season: 17.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.6 apg. Among active players, only LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Cunningham have reached those thresholds as rookies. The excitement around the Pistons isn’t just that Cunningham will improve individually — there’s room for that in his 41.6% shooting (and 31.4% on 3-pointers). It’s also based on the development of equally young teammates and a new backcourt partner in rookie Jaden Ivey, projected as a dynamic tandem for the next 10 years.


Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls

• Rookie Season Stats

Last season, the Bulls might have preferred Dosunmu to have less of an impact as his playing time soared mainly due to injuries to Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and others. But there shouldn’t be a lid on him now, given how second-round performance when he’s fielded. Goran Dragic is on board now, but Ball’s knee has been slow to heal, so the Chicago native and University of Illinois product should once again have opportunities. He praised his off-season work, on the field and in the weight room.


Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers

Rookie Season Stats

Duarte started strong last season, a nod to his age (24) and his four seasons at Oregon. He dropped out due to health and safety protocols and a toe injury, but is still a big part of Indiana’s backyard plans. A stint with the Dominican Republic national team was part of Duarte’s offseason regimen. The No. 13 pick in 2021 will also be stronger in year two.


Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

• Rookie Season Stats

Giddey wasn’t happy when he signed on to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, but that was inevitable when he played just 54 games and none after Feb. 24. All he needs is to stay healthy to become a driving force for the Thunder. It’s not just about his all-around game — 12.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.4 apg — it’s how his shrewd play, excellent vision, and bold passing elevate his teammates. With respected shooting coach Chip Engelland in the house now, that area of ​​Giddey’s game (41.9 percent, 26.3 percent from arc) should improve.


Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

• Rookie Season Stats

Green, the No. 2 pick in 2021, hasn’t succumbed to inconsistent and ineffective performances early in the season. He worked with the Houston coaches and patiently let his talent emerge, earning him a solid second half and achieving first-team All-Rookie status. He will therefore start this season with the confidence he has gained. In a interview with CNN Philippines, the 6-foot-4 guard shared his summer schedule. “I’ve been working on decision making, tightening my grip and knowing what shots I want to get on the floor,” Green said. “Getting comfortable to get to my seats and just getting up. Catch and shoot.


Bones Hyland, Denver nuggets

• Rookie Season Stats

Hyland took on more responsibility than most expected, stepping into the void for Jamal Murray and giving the Nuggets a boost in both backcourt spots. With Monte Morris and Will Barton traded to Washington for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, Hyland is Denver’s sixth man capable of scoring by attacking the edge or bombing from long range.


Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans

• Rookie Season Stats

Jones helped salvage an otherwise down season for the Pelicans, making his defensive presence felt in interceptions, deflections and contested shots. Alabama’s No. 35 pick has perked up offensively and gained experience, averaging 10.6 ppg after Dec. 1 (down from 6.4 ppg before that). “Herb has grown,” teammate CJ McCollum said. “He had the talent, he had the ability. Now he had the stage to show what he had to offer. Another Pelicans newbie vying for a bigger role: point guard and defensive pest Jose Alvarado.


Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors

• Rookie Season Stats

At a minimum, Kuminga’s rookie season of 16.9 minutes per game didn’t stop the Warriors from achieving their overarching goal of a championship. But he didn’t just grow, he contributed as Golden State “laid its foundation,” as coach Steve Kerr called it. He was aggressive and versatile as a scorer (19.8 points per 36 minutes), and there were nights when his size and strength, even at 19, made him the better option defensively. Now all that experience he has gained on the pitch and in the side can make him an even more important part of the rehearsal plan. Same with Moses Moody, who averaged 27 points per game in the Las Vegas Summer League, if he can earn bigger minutes.


Tre Mann, Oklahoma City Thunder

• Rookie Season Stats

As the young Thunder continues to develop, Mann has the tools and the opportunity to become a regular contributor and a solid sixth man (as well as the name of a solid rewards campaign). He wasn’t shy in his rookie season (15.5 shots per 36 minutes for 16.5 ppg) and his long-range shooting (36%) covered his overall accuracy (39.3).


Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

• Rookie Season Stats

Mitchell arrived in a crowded, lounge-only backcourt, but the Kings trade of Tyrese Haliburton and an injury to De’Aaron Fox opened up an opportunity. There is always strong competition for minutes with the addition of Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. And Mitchell’s shooting (41.8% overall, 31.6% from deep) needs work. But it’s a safe bet that new coach Mike Brown will adopt the defensive skills of the youngster nicknamed ‘Off Night’ for the way he protects opposition scorers.


Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

• Rookie Season Stats

After occupying the No. 1 spot on the Rookie Ladder for much of the season, Mobley was edged out by Barnes in a close ROY poll when the young Cavs forward missed five of their last seven games. But being an All-Rookie selection and being considered for All-Defensive honors was a testament to his worth, as was his cornerstone work at both ends. He would have been a sponge to learn his lessons, good or bad, and he showed the consistency and demeanor of a veteran. His challenges this season include expanding his shooting range and finding that shot more often.


Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

• Rookie Season Stats

Sengun was a darling by 36, getting his 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in about 20 minutes. With Christian Wood departing for Dallas and Daniel Theis departing as well, the Turkish big man might be more in demand. Worries about his defense, especially rim protection, are fair, but his pass-first intelligence could really help any young talent around him flourish.


Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic

• Rookie Season Stats

Trying to develop both Suggs and Cole Anthony, dynamic point guards drafted a year apart, was going to be pretty tough. Suggs’ broken thumb early and ankle injury late cleared the decks for Anthony but didn’t help the rookie or suggest any long-term answers. They could work in tandem, but Suggs’ offensive play (shots, turnovers) lags considerably behind his defensive impact. Being healthy and staying available are his first and second priorities right now.


Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets

• Rookie Season Stats

Thomas has averaged 27.4 points in five Summer League games in Las Vegas, which isn’t surprising considering he’s averaged 27 points there in 2021. But the No. increased his assists from 2.0 to 4.2 (although he shot 27.3% on 3-point range). What his second season holds is unclear, given the continued uncertainty over Durant’s whereabouts. Durant and Kyrie Irving took on Thomas as a project last season, for what it’s worth. Defending and setting up his teammates are his most mature areas of improvement.


Franz Wagner, The Magic of Orlando

• Rookie Season Stats

Showing up is 90% of life, they say, and staying healthy is a skill. Wagner wasn’t perfect last season, but his 79 appearances topped all rookies and only Barnes recorded more minutes. The 6ft 9in striker eyed lottery pick (Suggs) drafted three spots ahead of him, and now Wagner is counted on to caulking the learning curve of No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero . He has point guarding skills and he will likely increase his free throw attempts now that the referees know his game.

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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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